The Retirement Living Code of Conduct is a “watershed” development for the sector, says Minter Ellison partner and retirement living legal expert Robin Lyons (pictured). And there are steps Property Council members can take to prepare.
The voluntary Retirement Living Code of Conduct, developed in collaboration with Leading Age Services Australia, takes effect from 1 January 2020. This sets national standards for retirement village operators when marketing, selling and operating retirement communities.
Lyons has acted for the retirement village sector for more than 25 years, and recently assisted Aveo Group with its $215.5 million acquisition of Freedom Aged Care. He’s an active member of both Property Council and LASA committees, was previously named the sector’s ‘lawyer of the year’ and says he is passionate about the work he does supporting the sector.
“The retirement living sector plays a vital role – creating safe, secure and supportive communities where older Australians can enjoy their retirement years with ready access to care, well-being and lifestyle services – and that role will only become more important as our aged population burgeons.”
While Lyons has watched the sector mature rapidly over recent years, “this is the first really significant initiative towards self-regulation,” he says. “It’s about the sector stepping up to take control of its own destiny by setting, monitoring and safeguarding 'best practice' standards at a national level.”
While voluntary for the industry, members of both the Property Council and LASA have agreed to sign up to the Code.
“Collectively, these two organisations are responsible for more than 50 per cent of the retirement living sector in Australia – so it’s a very influential cohort who will be getting behind the Code. And the Code is set to become a powerful unifying force.”
The Code is a key plank in the Retirement Living Industry Eight Point Plan, launched in 2017 to deliver higher standards and greater transparency, clearer and simpler information about costs and contracts, and an independent umpire to resolve disputes.
Lyons is confident the Code will meet these objectives. Self-regulation is also likely to help the sector avoid reputational damage and “legislative overreach”, he says.
“We are as strong as our weakest link. Governments regulate to deal with the weakest performing operators, and the media only ever wants to report on the weakest. The Code is a great start in reducing the sector's weak links.
“The sector will justifiably use the Code’s launch and roll out as a ‘good news’ story to help to address the reputational damage the sector has unfairly suffered in the media in recent years.
“The Code will also demonstrate to governments that the sector is taking responsibility for self-regulation, which in turn will slow the pace and severity of legislative intervention.”
Lyons says there are several actions that operators can take to prepare for the 1 January roll-out:
- Audit: Undertake an audit of current documentation – marketing material, residence contracts, policies, procedures and more – to determine areas that need adjusting to align with the Code. New Complaint Handling Guidelines and a Compliance Checklist have been released to assist with these audits.
- Compliance: Nominate an experienced code compliance officer, as required by the Code, to oversee implementation, communicate with staff and residents and monitor ongoing compliance. “This will preferably not be the village manager,” Lyons advises.
- Complaints: Review and adjust the complaints management system to ensure it reflects the requirements of the Code.
- Upskill: Provide training for employees and contractors engaged at each community to ensure that they understand the requirements of the Code. The Property Council has developed a 30-minute interactive online course to help industry participants prepare.
- Report: Establish a process for annual internal audits of compliance and delivery of an annual compliance statement.
Lyons’ call to action is clear.
“It’s time for the sector to unite in support of these self-regulation initiatives. By demonstrating that operators in our sector are prepared to collectively take responsibility for setting and safeguarding standards, then governments will hopefully have the confidence to intervene less.
“If we don’t take control of our own destiny then governments will determine our destiny for us– and given their notoriously heavy-handed approach it almost certainly won't be the destiny we have in mind.”
Learn more about the Retirement Living Code of Conduct and how your organisation can sign up.
Support the 2020 PwC/Property Council Retirement Census. Data collection will begin on 22 July, and all village operators are encouraged to participate.
And get your tickets for the National Retirement Living Summit, which will be held on the Gold Coast from 20-22 November. Tickets are selling fast.